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Towards Zero  
Towards Zero US First Edition Cover 1944.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
Author Agatha Christie
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date June 1944
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 242 pp (first edition, hardcover)
Preceded by The Moving Finger
Followed by Absent in the Spring

Towards Zero is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in June 1944[1] and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in July of the same year[2]. The US edition retailed at $2.00[1] and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[2]. The book is the last to feature her recurring character of Superintendent Battle.


Plot summary

Before a murder is committed, events collude and juxtapose in such a fashion as to set up the scene of the crime; indeed, it is only a matter of time until the clock points towards zero and violent death occurs...

The story begins as Lady Tressilian, an old and humourless woman confined to her bed, invites several guests into her seaside home of Gull's Point for the summer. However, handsome tennis star Nevile Strange, former ward of Lady Tressilian's deceased husband, incurs her displeasure by re-uniting his new wife, Kay, and his ex, Audrey, under her roof, thus causing no end of romantic misunderstandings. But events soon take on a much less whimsical turn when Lady Tressilian is killed where she sleeps and Superintendent Battle, who is meant to be recuperating in the home of his nephew, Inspector James Leach, finds himself pawing his way along a labyrinthine maze of clues and deception...

Characters in "Towards Zero"

  • Lady Tressilian, host of her seaside home
  • Mary Aldin, Lady Tressilian's companion
  • Nevile Strange, a handsome tennis player
  • Kay Strange, his beautiful second wife
  • Audrey Strange, Strange's beautiful first wife
  • Edward (Ted) Latimer, Kay's friend
  • Thomas Royde, Audrey's distant cousin
  • Mr. Treves, Lady Tressilian's solicitor
  • Andrew MacWhirter, a man who tries to commit suicide
  • Inspector James Leach, Battle's nephew
  • Superintendent Battle, who solves the case with his nephew

Literary significance and reception

The review by Maurice Willson Disher in The Times Literary Supplement of July 22, 1944 was overwhelmingly positive: "Undiscriminating admirers of Miss Christie must surely miss the thrill of realizing when she is at her best. If this argument is sound then Towards Zero is for the critical. By virtue of masterly story-telling it makes the welfare of certain persons at a seaside town seem of more importance at the moment than anything else in the world. Mechanized brains may object that the murderer "perfects" his mystery by methods imposed upon fiction's police, but even when the maze is vaguely recognized the tale still grips. The characters become so much a part of the reader’s existence that he must know what their ultimate fate may be before he will rest satisfied. How alive they are is apparent when two men, both dogged, laconic, poker-faced, never seem alike. The wife and the ex-wife, who neither like nor dislike one another, also reveal creative power. As an exhibition of the modern brand of human nature, Towards Zero deserves higher praises than any that can be awarded to it as an excellent detective story."[3]

Maurice Richardson in the August 6, 1944 issue of The Observer wrote, "The new Agatha Christie has a deliciously prolonged and elaborate build-up, urbane and cosy like a good cigar and red leather slippers. Poirot is absent physically, but his influence guides the sensitive inspector past the whiles of the carefully planted house party, and with its tortuous double bluff this might well have been a Poirot case. How gratifying to see Agatha Christie keeping the flag of the old classic who-dun-it so triumphantly flying!"[4]

Robert Barnard: "Superb: intricately plotted and unusual. The murder comes later, and the real climax of the murderer's plot only at the end. The ingenuity excuses a degree of far-fetchedness. Highly effective story of the child and the bow-and-arrow (part II, chapter 6) and good characterization of the playboy-sportsman central character – very much of that era when one was expected to behave like a gentleman at Wimbledon."[5]

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

In 1956, Christie adapted the book into a play.

In 1995, a film company was going to turn Towards Zero into a film and included such issues as incest in the script. Rosalind Hicks, Agatha Christie's daughter and controller of her estate, reviewed the script and ordered that the name of the film be changed as well as the names of the characters. The film became Innocent Lies and was met with mediocre success.

The novel has been adapted as part of the third season of the new Miss Marple ITV television series in 2007. In the film, it is Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan) who solves the case, not Superintendent Battle. However, a new character, Superintendent Mallard, does appear in the film.

In 2007 a French version titled L'Heure Zéro was produced. [1]

In 2010, the novel was adapted to a radio play for the BBC 4. It is currently airing.

Publication history

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
  • 1944, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), June 1944, Hardcover, 242 pp
  • 1944, Collins Crime Club (London), July 1944, Hardcover, 160 pp
  • 1947, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 210 pp (Pocket number 398)
  • 1948, Pan Books, Paperback, 195 pp (Pan number 54)
  • 1959, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1972, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 347 pp ISBN 0-85-456126-9
  • 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 224 pp
  • 1974, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 224 pp ISBN 0-00-231827-X
  • 1977, Penguin Books, Paperback, 192 pp

The novel's first true publication was the serialisation in Collier's Weekly in three instalments from May 6 (Volume 113, Number 19) to May 20, 1944 (Volume 113, Number 21) under the title Come and Be Hanged! with illustrations by Charles La Salle.


  1. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  2. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
  3. ^ The Times Literary Supplement July 22, 1944 (Page 353)
  4. ^ The Observer August 6, 1944 (Page 3)
  5. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 208). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743

External links



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